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5 Things You Need to Know Before Doing the Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to Ink Pots Banff

This incredibly popular trail is also one of the best day hikes in Banff. The hike starts by going through the narrow and stunning Johnston Canyon with a walk through a narrow gorge and multiple waterfalls including the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls and Upper Falls, before opening up into the gorgeous river valley with a series of fascinating Ink Pot pools where the water bubbles up from below as the ground water enters the small pools.

In this article, we will share complete Johnston Canyon directions including how to get to the Johnston Canyon parking lot, what to expect on the Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots, and whether this hike is worth the hype (spoiler – it is an incredible hike, but only worth it if you avoid the crowds).

Many people also like to do this as a Johnston Canyon winter hike to see the ice. You can find more information about doing this hike in the winter here.

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Overview of the Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to Ink Pots

Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1800 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Johnston Canyon Hike Time: 4 hours to the Ink Pots and 2-3 hours to just hike to Johnston Canyon.

These distances describe hiking the entire hike up the Johnston Canyon waterfall trail to the Ink Pots. You can easily shorten the distance by just visiting Johnston Canyon or hiking up to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls. You can see a complete description of our hike up to the Ink Pots by scrolling to the bottom of this post.

Start your hike in the large parking lot for Johnston Canyon. Parking at Johnston Canyon can get crowded so try to arrive early or hike later in the day.

The trail is paved for the first section up through the canyon and is easy walking although does steadily gain elevation. After the first flat Johnston Canyon walk, you will start to pass many waterfalls and a narrow section of the canyon. This area is really pretty.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

At the end of Johnston Canyon, the trail heads steeply into the woods for a short section before reaching the open river valley. If you are visiting in the spring or summer there are plenty of wildflowers.

The Ink Pots are just a few minutes after reaching the field. Each of the pools is it’s own gorgeous color. Their distinctive, vibrant blue and green hues result from the presence of various mineral deposits, such as magnesium and calcium, which interact with the sunlight filtering through the clear water.

At the bottom of many of the pools, ground water bubbles up making fascinate movement in the water itself.

After you’ve enjoyed the Ink Pots, turn around and retrace your steps to the Johnston Canyon parking lot.

Ink Pots Hike and Johnston Canyon Map

Map of Johnston Canyon Summer hike to the Ink Pots, Banff
Map of Johnston Canyon Summer hike to the Ink Pots, Banff

5 Things to Know about the Johnston Canyon Hikes to the Ink Pots

1. This Hike is Stunning

This hike is a good one! The first section follows the narrow and gorgeous Johnston Canyon. The path through this part of the canyon is paved and easy walking. The trail follows along the edge of the cliffs with boardwalks and bridges.

Once the canyon narrows you will pass multiple waterfalls including the Upper and Lower Falls and can even walk through a cave to see a waterfall.

While we loved the canyon, the end of this hike at the Ink Pots was the best part (in our opinion). Once you leave the canyon, the trail passes through a short and steep forest section before reaching an expansive valley. Here you will find the fascinating Ink Pot pools and can enjoy the river, wildflowers and amazing views of the mountains.

While you can end your hike at the Ink Pots, you can also continue up the trail to get more views. We hiked up to the bridge that crosses the river and stopped for a snack before turning around.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots: Crowds at Upper Falls

The Crowds can Ruin This Hike

We were hesitant to do this hike after reading some of the reviews of how busy this hike is during a summer day. Ultimately we decided to do this hike, but left the parking lot by 7 am.

The hike up to the Ink Pots was lovely and while there were plenty of other people on the trail, it wasn’t too crowded.

On the way down the trail, we encountered crowds as people were heading up the trail around 9 am. There were so many people that it became unpleasant and even difficult to pass people.

The best time to hike the Johnston Canyon Trail is in the shoulder seasons or early in the morning (leave before 7 am) or late in the day.

Keep a lookout on the Johnston Canyon weather before heading out on the trail – longer sections of the trail are in the shade and can be cool in the mornings.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

There is a Large Parking Lot at the Johnston Canyon Trailhead that Fills Up

Parking at Johnston Canyon is best if you arrive early or late. Despite the huge number of parking spots, the lot does fill up during July or August. After our hike the parking lot was completely full in July at 9:30.

Parking is free, or you can also take the Banff Hop-on Hop-Off bus or Roam transit bus 9 to reach Johnston Canyon.

How to Get to the Johnston Canyon Trailhead and Parking Lot

To reach the Johnston Canyon Trailhead and Parking Lot in Banff National Park, start from the town of Banff and head west on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). After approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), take the exit for Castle Junction. Turn left onto the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) and continue for about 18 kilometers (11 miles) until you reach Johnston Canyon.

The trailhead and parking lot are well-signposted and are located on the left side of the road, making it easily accessible for hikers looking to explore this stunning natural attraction.

From Johnston Canyon to Lake Louise the drive takes about 25 minutes.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

The Walking Surface is Partly Paved and Well Marked

The first section of this trail is paved, well marked and easy to follow. There are clearly marked signs making it wasy to follow the trail. While we still recommend hiking shoes or boots, this section of the trail is easy walking.

At the end of Johnston Canyon, the trail becomes dirt, but is still well packed and wide with just a few rocks and roots. The trail does get steeper at this point.

Despite the easy walking, the trail does gain about 1800 feet over the distance of the hike. There are several steep sections of the hike, especially leaving Johnston Canyon.

Overall we consider this a moderate trail

Consider Doing the Johnston Canyon Hike in Winter

While the summer can get crowded, one of the best times to do the Johnston Canyon hike is in the winter.

During the winter, the Johnston Canyon frozen waterfalls offer incredible layers of ice. If you are hiking in the winter, make sure you have a good pair of microspikes or crampons.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

Details of the Johnston Canyon Summer Hike and Ink Pots Trail

We did this hike in early July of 2023. We were camping at Johnston Campground for a few days and on our final day, Dave, Finley and I decided to get up and get an early start on this hike.

Once reaching the parking lot, follow the bridge across the river. The Lodge is directly in front of you and the trail up Johnston Canyon go uphill to the right.

The trail starts off mostly easy and flat alongside the river. In a short distance, the canyon begins to narrow. At 3/4 of a mile, you will reach Lower Falls.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots: Lower Falls
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

The canyon passes through several narrow sections and smaller waterfalls as it continues up the canyon. At 1.5 miles, you will pass Upper Falls. There are several viewpoints for seeing Upper Falls. One of the best views is to cross the bridge and walk into the small cave. There are only a few people who can fit at a time so there tends to be a line to get into the cave.

If there is a line, you can still get a great view from above the falls looking down (see the second photo below).

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots: Upper Falls
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots: Upper Falls
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots: Upper Falls

Just past Upper Falls Johnston Canyon ends and the trail continues up to the Ink Pots.

The next section of the hike is the hardest. Since I was hiking with two people with long legs, We did this part of the hike very fast. The trail is mostly in the forest and shade and there are some switchbacks as you make your way up the path.

The trail descends a short distanec before leaving the forest behind and entering a large field area that is part of a river valley. The Ink Pots are just a short distance ahead.

These gorgeous pools are easy to explore with several small trails, benches, and bridges so you can get different views of each of the pools. We lingered here for a while before continueing to walk towards the river. We followed the river a short distance up to the bridge before finding a place for a quick snack before heading back down the trail.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

Is the Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots Trail Worth it?

The quick answer is YES and NO. While we loved every part of the scenery of this hike, the number of people (even at 7 am) was bordering on too many.

I would not do the Johnston Canyon hike after 8 am on a July or August day. The number of people take away from this hike and there are so many amazing other hikes in Banff, that it’s best to choose another trail.

One of the reasons we enjoyed the Ink Pots so much is that most people only hike to the end of Johnston Canyon.

Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

Common Questions about Johnston Canyon Summer Hike to the Ink Pots

What is the distance of the Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots hike, and how long does it typically take to complete?

The round-trip hike to the Ink Pots from Johnston Canyon is approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and usually takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete, depending on your pace and how long you spend at the Ink Pots.

Are there any entrance fees or permits required for this hike?

Yes, there is an entrance fee for Banff National Park, which covers access to Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots hike. You can purchase a park pass at the entrance or online before your visit.

What are the Ink Pots, and why are they a popular attraction along the hike?

The Ink Pots are a series of vibrant blue-green mineral springs that bubble up from the ground. They are a unique geological feature and are a popular attraction because of their striking colors and serene surroundings.

Is the Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots trail suitable for beginners, or is it more challenging?

The trail is considered moderate in difficulty, making it suitable for hikers of various skill levels. It involves some elevation gain and can be slippery in wet conditions, so sturdy footwear and caution are advised. Since the trail is an out and back, you can easily just hike one section or go up to the Lower Falls.

Are there any safety tips to keep in mind when hiking to the Ink Pots in Johnston Canyon?

It’s important to stay on the designated trail, as venturing off can damage the delicate ecosystem. Additionally, be prepared for changing weather conditions and carry essentials like water, snacks, and bear spray.

Can I bring my dog on the Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots hike?

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail to protect the local wildlife and ecosystem. Make sure to check the park’s pet policy for other nearby dog-friendly trails.

7. Q: When is the best time of year to hike to the Ink Pots in Johnston Canyon? A: The best time to hike to the Ink Pots is during the summer and early fall (June to September). During this period, the trail is usually free of snow, and the weather is more predictable.

8. Q: Are there restroom facilities or places to refill water along the trail to the Ink Pots? A: There are restrooms located at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, but there are no restroom facilities along the trail to the Ink Pots. It’s advisable to use the facilities before starting your hike and carry enough water to stay hydrated throughout your journey.

Looking for more hikes in Banff? Check out Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots

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